Book Review: Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford
B+/B- | The combination of a well-written and powerful relationship between two sisters, world-building, and a compelling protagonist makes Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford worthy of 4.5 to 5.0 stars/A- rating. However, this debut novel was brought down to a 3.0 to 3.5 stars/B+ or B- by the shite romance, a pretty terrible one-dimensional romantic interest, a villain who I wished got fleshed out more, and the abrupt ending.
I admit that I consumed this book. I admit that instead of studying for my lab exam and practicum, I was reading this book. Why? It was interesting and pretty okay. I found it completely and utterly interesting until I hit the last ⅓ of the book. I honestly said “wtf” when I finished because I was just stunned on how it went up and up and up and then crashed so hard.
But let’s talk about the good first.
The writing was great. It moved fluidly like the ocean and was just as colorful, too. This awesome writing was supported by this awe-inspiriting world-building and fantastic characterizations.
Anyone who has read my other reviews knows I’m a die hard for good world-building and Mara Rutherford handed it to me on a silver platter with delicious Filipino food. Everything from Varenia’s culture, legends, and vivid, blue and warm descriptions of their surroundings to Ilara’s dim and grim atmosphere gripped onto me and refused to let go. I was transported into this world. It felt like I was actually there with Nor.
The world was fleshed out and explored. There was no stone left unturned when it came to exposing me to this universe. The contrast between Varenia’s and Ilara’s cultures were exposed and brought to light. When Nor first arrived in Ilara, I got introduced to the strangeness of Ilara’s culture, too. And most importantly, I felt it and it made me long for Varenia’s sun and sea. The dank and grimness of Ilara is further added on when Nor is brought to the New Castle. You thought it was strange this kingdom is still morning the death of this princess who has been dead for years and years? Wait until you see New Castle.
But it also calls out to you to find the answers to what is going on with the people living in New Castle. Is it the lack of sunshine alone that’s killing them or something else? What makes these people shun the sun and its warmth to living in such a cold place?
Nor was a compelling protagonist that I could truly connect with the more time I spent with her. She felt human. Her emotions screamed at you and held you by the neck.
Her bond with Zadie was explored to its fullest and I am so grateful for it. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a book with a well-written sibling bond. Hell, it’s extra props that this twin bond was well executed and explored. The scene where Zadie begs Nor to help her kills me every time I think about it because of how awesomely it was executed. I could feel the tension, the fear, and the pain.
Nor’s relationship with her mother also got to me because I want to scream that this woman is a narcissist! However, as we get introduced to Ceren, his lust for more and more pink pearls, and his callous apathy towards Nor’s people, it made me question this judgement. Yes, I still disliked Nor’s mother for her words towards Nor as well as her actions in the years preparing the twins for the selection, but I also sort of started to understand her obsession with Zadie and Nor (up until Nor’s injury) being selected to become Ceren’s bride.
It’s layers and layers, you see and I love layers.
So you could maybe see how I was so utterly disappointed towards the end. It quite honestly shocked me how this gorgeous world and characterizations were weakened by this insta-romance between Nor and Talin, Talin’s characterization, Ceren himself, and the pacing.
First, let me go into Talin or what I have of him. Basically, when you compare it to Ceren, there’s nothing there. He’s nothing more than a piece of cardboard that was cut out. There wasn’t much there and what was there bored me. I honestly preferred Sami than Talin because Sami at least felt like a person than a cardboard box. Like, okay, cool, so the second son of the king born to a woman from Varenia. So, what? Give me more! Give me a reason to like him more than Ceren aside from the fact that Ceren is a callous dude who doesn’t care about other people’s lives.
Speaking of Ceren, let me talk about him before I go to the romance. Ceren was wasted potential. Whereas we didn’t get to see much of Talin, we got to see a lot of Ceren. He has so much potential to be this fantastic, morally grey character whose ambitions and lust for power knows no bounds and is controlled by his need to live and be healthy. But instead, he’s like a two-dimensional figure who isn’t exactly the most terrifying villain.
I wanted more Ceren and certainly more of Talin. Having a slightly fleshed out villain shouldn’t be done at the expense of the romantic interest. Talin was so one dimensional that when the romance between him and Nor occurred, I was just honest to God rolling my eyes.
Insta-romances are boring. I would rather see no romance at all than have this forced on me. Hell, I would have honestly been more interested in seeing Nor with Sami or Ceren because she actually interacted with them more than a couple of times.
I also think what contributed to this whole crash and burn was the pacing. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured this book and I wasn’t bored by any means due to the characters and world-building. But these two things can only do so much when there’s not much happening in terms of the plot. Perhaps part of the reason why I moved through this book so quickly was that I was waiting for something to happen. Fillers are okay at times, I also need action to happen. I think what could have been improved here is if the fillers had stuff relating to the romance since we had to have romance here apparently.
So when it came time for the climax, it was unsatisfactory to say the least. It was rushed and ended so abruptly. It felt like everything was jam-packed into the last ⅓ of the book while at the same time, there were things that were left unsaid and not explored.
Also, this book is definitely setting up for a sequel because I refuse to believe that this is the end. I will certainly be reading the sequel because I do want to know what happens next, however, I’m really hoping that Mara Rutherford does better on the romance, on Talin, and on the endings.
Do I recommend this book? Sure. If you’re looking for a book with great world-building, a compelling protagonist who has a well-developed relationship with some of the characters and you can ignore the disappointment with the insta-romance and the one-dimensional love interest, then this is for you.
Thank you to Harlequin TEEN and Inkyard Press over at NetGalley for providing a copy of the eARC. All opinions are my own.